At some point in your Thailand travels you will encounter dual pricing. Dual pricing, double pricing or two-tiered pricing, call it what you want as any debate on what you call it is just semantics – the end result is the same. You will either be aware of it or oblivious to what is happening, but rest assured you will pay more. The thing to keep in mind is regardless of what you may think of the practice, the majority of Thais have no issue with you being charged more. In fact, a Thai national in your group may even facilitate it because it is easier for you to pay then to create a scene arguing about it.
I want to make a point at the start of this topic. There are numerous articles and posts on the internet discussing this subject. The arguments for and against are polar where some complain about the ethnicity of the practice while others support the practice or are indifferent to it because it doesn’t affect them (usually expats). I’m in the former camp where I do have a problem with the practice, more so as an issue for Thailand than myself. For me, I simply vote with my feet and bypass any business that engages in dual pricing. I don’t need to make a big song and dance about it at the particular business because in all honesty, they don’t care what you or I think. Also, the person at the counter didn’t make the policy, just following it, so complaining to them is an act of futility. They aren’t going to look the other way for you by sweet talking them and charge you Thai price because if caught, at the least, that money will be deducted from their pay.
Not familiar with Dual Pricing?
The simple way to explain dual pricing is the practice of charging a higher price for a product/service that it is normally sold at a lower price. Or to be blunt, if you’re not Thai, you pay more. However, if you have Asian heritage that allows you to reasonably pass as a Thai physically, you’ll get the local rate more by error than anything else. As you can work out, the less Thai you look, the more likely you’ll be hit with dual pricing.
Types of Dual Pricing
There are 3 main examples of how dual pricing occurs:
Clearly advertised in English
If there is a ‘least objectionable’ form of dual pricing, this is it. The business/attraction is clearly telling you that they engage in dual pricing and ‘up to you’ if you want to pay.
Thai price in Thai – Foreigner price in English
This is where the business/attraction attempts to hide their dual pricing policy by making it appear there is only one price to all. If you can’t read Thai script, you will probably be none the wiser unless you are travelling with a Thai partner. An easy hack from learning to read Thai is to memorise the thai script for baht which is บาท. By knowing that script, you will know something is up with a sign talking about money. Normally it’s easy as you will see a sign along the lines of 100บาท or 150บาท etc.
This is where the business doesn’t want to show any indication that they engage in dual pricing. The most common example that I can think of to illustrate this is restaurants where you are automatically given a menu in English instead of a Thai or dual one (both in Thai and English but only one price). The majority of the time (there have been some exceptions) the English menu pricing will be higher than the Thai one.
Another example is where some business/attractions will be a little more devious and write in thai script the numbers (which is why you need to learn the thai scipt for baht) or alternatively a sign that says thai nationals get a certain % discount.
What’s not Dual Pricing in Thailand?
Being told by a Thai vendor that something is 600 baht when they would accept 400 baht is not dual pricing – it’s the game of barter in haggling a good deal.
Why do Thai’s think it’s OK to charge you more?
The simple answer to this is that the majority of Thai’s assume and perceive foreigners as being rich simply because you can afford to travel overseas. The fact that a percentage of Thai’s make a lot of money in excess of what I or other foreigners make eludes their preconceived ideas and assumptions. Another fact that alludes the majority of Thai’s is the large number of Thais who travel overseas themselves for holidays. Therefore if the criteria to apply dual pricing is based on one’s ability to travel internationally, why then does this not apply locally to Thai’s who have enough disposable income to travel abroad?
Another reason is because it doesn’t affect them, the subject simply has no interest for Thais. By way of illustration, if you were to have a business or product that was sought by Thai on mass and charged Thai’s a premium price over the price charged for foreigners, lets just say that business will either be out of business or their policy quickly changed.
Why Dual Pricing is Evil
Dual pricing is a cancer that eats away at the goodness you can experience in Thailand. Having a higher price demanded from you simply because you aren’t Thai is a hard pill to swallow for travellers coming from a country that makes discrimination an offence. Is dual pricing a form of discrimination? Yes, by its very action, treating people differently based on their race/country/perceptions is discriminatory.
Why Do Some People Support Dual Pricing?
I have read and listened to a number of arguments why it is OK for Thai’s to engage in dual pricing. I have only found one valid argument that I can agree with in principle but maybe not execution. But first, let’s go through some of the nonsensical arguments:
The extra money has little impact on a foreigner compared to a Thai
This argument relies on a presumption that the very vast majority of Thai’s only earn the minimum of 300 baht per day who survive day to day. The assumption is simply flawed and relies on a stereotype that all Thai’s are poor. The other assumption is that all foreigners in Thailand have a bottomless pocket of cash to throw around. The fact that Thailand is a popular destination for low budget travelers who are looking to conserve their travel funds eludes this camp of supporters. Another fact over looked is that some people may save for years to be able to afford their overseas holiday and money is tight.
You’re helping out a local who earns little money
This flows on from the first point based on the stereotype that all Thai’s are poor, by suggesting you’ll receive some sort of good karma from the act. Let me say this, Thai’s don’t respect anyone who are frivolous with money so while they are extremely happy in getting more money than what they would normally get, you are in a state of delusion to think that you have improved someone’s life or earned some sort of “respect”. I think the supporters in this camp simply argue this to allow them to have peace with being ripped off with dual pricing.
The ‘Disney’ argument
This is probably the most ridiculous argument I’ve heard. The argument is that all over the world, locals receive cheaper prices than tourists. By way of example, they compare promotions that Disney give to locals for reduced entrance fees. The flaw of this argument of course is that the discount is offered to promote repeat visitors living in the immediate area – not US wide. So this camp of supporters make no consideration that when they say it’s OK for locals to receive a discount – they mean every single Thai person and not those living in the immediate area thus making the legitimacy of their comparison void.
Thai’s pay taxes and tourists don’t!
The argument is that as taxpayers, Thai’s are entitled to pay less. The flaw of this argument is that a large percentage of Thai’s do not pay personal income tax. I’ve also never seen (and would challenge anyone else to show) a place who is engaging in dual pricing requesting proof of income. A further counter argument is that tourist do pay taxes by way of vat on purchases – say at a restaurant or department store. Thirdly, paying tax has no relevance whatsoever on private businesses fleecing foreigners!
It’s Capitalism – Accept it!
This one try’s to argue that dual pricing is nothing more than capitalism at work – ie sell at the highest price the market will bear. If that is the case, why doesn’t every single business in Thailand follow suit, such as the airlines? I’m sure Thaiair, Nok or AirAsia would love to be able to put a special surcharge on to boost their profits. Besides the huge bad will that they know would be generated, one reason is that capitalist markets are moderated by laws. Thailand is no exception and there were attempts to deal with the issue, but like most of these things in Thailand, soon lost momentum and interest with lacklustre consumer protection to tackle the issue on a whole.
Learn to Sa-Peak Thai
This comes across as a tip, but I’ve seen it used to criticise other people who voice their concerns with dual pricing. The usual modus operandi is to suggest not being lazy and learn to speak Thai which, the theory goes, will insulate you from dual pricing. If this is your goal in learning Thai, you are going to have quite a shock when it doesn’t work. At best, it is intermittent where speaking thai with a work permit etc may give you a reprieve from dual pricing – but by no means is it a sure thing. The sad thing that I find with people who suggest this is that they appear to me to fall into the camp of “if it doesn’t affect me I’m good with it”. This sort of person is the complete opposite of me with their apathy based on their own self-interest.
If you don’t like it – stay away!
This argument is something you hear quite regularly on this and X other topics discussing Thailand. It is also one that you can quickly dismiss because it comes from someone who is simply too lazy to engage in deeper thought on the subject or to articulate any valid argument.
The One Exception
In principle, I agree with policy’s that allows a Thai national to enter a public place either for free or a small charge. Naturally these places exclude private businesses or anything else that isn’t supported or maintained by the public purse. I know some people complain about the price difference between Thai Nationals and foreigner’s entering national parks, but I kind of agree that a Thai national shouldn’t be economically restricted in entering a public place within their own country. The debate may still be open as to what is a reasonable price difference to charge for these places (“the execution”), but I’m not going to enter into that discussion here because quite frankly I think it’s up to the Government to determine their own policy. I can say that I’ve only entered one national park in all my time in Thailand – so read from that what you will.
What To Do When You Are Faced With Dual Pricing?
Simply walk away! Whatever it is that you want to do, you can either find it somewhere else in Thailand or back in your home country or another country. The best way to avoid any hassle is to do a little advance research to find out if the place you are thinking of visiting engages in dual pricing before you go and if so, find something else to do or somewhere else to go.
An unpleasant example I had one time was with Siam Ocean World which now brands itself as Sealife. On this particular day it was quite busy with a long line (99% thai) to the ticket booth, but at the front the price was advertised at X baht per adult and child. After standing in line for 30 minutes and reaching the ticket booth, my tickets were more than what I had calculated. It was at this time that the “Foreigner Price” was displayed and as you can expect, it was a take it or leave it scenario despite me pointing out that only one price was being displayed out the front (being the Thai price). I’ve never been back and refuse to because of their dual pricing policy. Sealife is simply one of a number of private businesses that are on my dual pricing black list.
At the end of the day, dual pricing in Thailand is only going to leave a negative impression on those who are affected by it. Dual pricing is a cancer that simply eats away from the good experiences that can be had by visitors to Thailand. Given that the main impact of dual pricing is tourists, you would think that the Government would want to improve the quality of experiences from the quality tourists that they seek to entice. Lets face it, people dislike the thought of being charged more because of their nationality and allowing the institutionalisation of dual pricing to openly continue in the private sector in Thailand will continue to subtract from the good memories one can have visiting Thailand.
UPDATE: 22/02/2017 – If you think it is just us Westeners having a whinge about prices – you would be wrong. Latest news story in Thai news is a showdown between long-tail boat operators and the Krabi National Parks Chief concerning a reported 60% business decline which long-tail boat operators attribute to non-thai citizens being charged x10 the rate of thai citizens for National Park admission. What does this say?
- Well first, it’s the proverbial finger on the pulse of Thai tourism demonstrating that tourists of any nationality don’t like feeling they are being fleeced. A vote with your feet is what will cause change and seems to be working in this instance!
- Secondly, change is only being demanded due to the pockets of local operators being much lighter than they should be. It goes without saying that this isn’t a protest based on the ‘principles’ of charging foreigners more, it’s solely to do with the almighty $$ in Thailand.
My view is there is a little more to this story going on behind the scenes, however I don’t wish to speculate on it. The other thought I have is that this isn’t really localised to Krabi alone with regard to declining tourists who are happy to spend their holiday money in countries other than Thailand. Krabi just happens to have a very strong long-tail boat industry to meet tourist demands – lets face it, one of the most iconic images of Thailand is the front bow of a long-tail boat beached on the sands of Railay West.